Candidates Use Different Strategies to Push Issues

CSE candidate tracking yields insight into differing approaches

John McCain has mastered the “town-hall” style stump speech. His delivery is so informal that it seems “off-the-cuff,” although he tells the same stories and jokes at almost every stop. For the most part, he leaves discussion of policy issues to the question and answer period of the event.

George W. Bush delivers a standard stump speech that focuses on his issue priorities. Tort reform, tax relief, education reform and restoring the military are the issues he stresses at each and every stop. The one-on-one connection with the voters comes after the speech when he shakes hands, signs autographs and poses for pictures until every one has had their chance with the Texas Governor.

Citizens for a Sound Economy began tracking the presidential candidates back in October 1999. Since then, CSE has attended more events, talked to more voters and asked the candidates more questions than any other group in America. All told, we’ve attended over 200 events and asked candidates over 300 specific questions. We know the candidates, we know their issues and we know how they market the issues they care most about.

CSE is a non-partisan organization and we do not endorse candidates. We focus on ideas and try to get the candidates talking about the following issues:

Ending lawsuit abuse

Keeping the Internet free from taxation and burdensome regulations

Scrapping the Code and reducing taxes

School choice

Sen. McCain has a unique approach. He wants to attract young voters and retired veterans. Therefore, his prepared presentation always talks about World War II veterans and the great sacrifices they have made for our country. All veterans are asked to stand, and the rest of audience is invited to applaud them. To attract young voters, Sen. McCain uses his strong stand on banning taxation on the Internet to show his connection to the issues of the new millennium. CSE is often invited to make our pitch on Internet freedom. For example, in Londonberry, NH, McCain told his audience, “in the interest of full disclosure, young people from Citizens for a Sound Economy are here, sometimes there are different faces I see some different ones tonight. They always ask a question about internet taxation. They’re against internet taxation, I’m against internet taxation. They can tell you more eloquently than I can so rather than go through the whole charade of them asking me a question, I’ll just let them talk.”

Gov. Bush makes his appeal based on the issues, and his agenda remains predominantly market-based. He argues for tax cuts, to keep government from spending your money. He focuses on lawsuit abuse and how he has taken on the trial lawyers in his own state and won. His education plan, to give parents in districts with failing schools the ability to send their children to a better school, represents the closest he comes to an emotional appeal.

Off the stump, however, George W Bush appeals to voters with his quick wit, and personal attention. In fact, Bush named CSE’s now famous, “Sharkman” on the streets of Indianola, Iowa. Gov. Bush even took time during the morning of the Iowa caucus to address the entire CSE staff by conference call.

The contrast in styles is stark and ironic. The casual, Texas “good-ol-boy” Governor Bush, campaigns in a formal rigid structure that only allows him to reel off issues like he’s checking off a list. At the same time, the straight-laced military guy trained in the formalities of the United States Senate only raises his issue agenda when asked. He’s more comfortable telling a story than he is delivering a speech.